Do you like lake monsters? Is Nessie ignoring your calls? Is Ogopogo just rude? Mokele-mbembe just not your style? That's okay, because a municipal commission in Egilstaðir, Iceland has concluded that a 2012 video of Lagarfljótsormurinn is authentic and merits further investigation.
The commission of thirteen was given the task of evaluating the video, shot by Hjörtur E. Kjerúlf, and determining if he should receive the 500,000 krona (~$4300) prize established in 1997 for providing evidence of the existence of Lagarfljótsormurinn.
Finnish researchers had already debunked the video shortly after it broke. They suggest that it's just a net or a rope moving in the water, not a mysterious lake monster that legends say took two strong men to wrestle into submission. The town put together the commission anyway, because you just don't screw around with possible lake monster evidence. And seven of the thirteen members determined the video to be authentic and have agreed that the town should pay the prize money out.
Now, you might laugh because this seems like one of those "Icelanders believe in elves" things, but that's not a very likely case. In fact, we should probably lay off the Icelanders on this and other issues. In reality, what's behind the idea of the commission and its verdict is probably more because tourists like going where lake monsters live than it is actual belief in lake monsters. For that matter, tourists like things like elf houses too. Who wouldn't?
Iceland's a small country. And the people aren't stupid. It works out in their favor if they can attract tourists with whimsy and lake monsters, so why not play along if it'll attract tourists who'll spend money for the chance to see Lagarfljótsormurinn or an elf? Or even just to be near places where those things are said to live. Sure, some people there actually believe in elves and lake monsters. But that's true anywhere. If your first instinct is to laugh at Icelanders for being so stupid, it might be wise to pull your xenophobic head out of your ass long enough to actually examine the situation. Rather than assume the culture's stupid or something.
But enough about that. If you're going to Iceland, check out Egilstaðir. I hear they have a lake monster. And it's a monster that has recorded sightings dating back to the annals of 1345. Sabine Baring-Gould in his 1863 text Iceland: Its Scenes and Sagas quotes the annal:
There appeared a wonderful thing in the Lagarfljót, which is believed to have been a living animal. At some times it seemed like a great island, and at others, there appeared humps several hundred fathoms apart, with water between them. No one knows the dimensions of the creature, for none saw its head or tail, consequently there is no certainty as to what it was.
So there's some cool history behind this. There's also some delightful folklore.
According to tradition, Lagarfljótsormurinn (the name literally means The Worm of Lagarfljót) was born because a woman who lived near Lagarfljót gave her daughter a golden ring. The daughter asked how to make the most of the ring, and her mother said to place it under a heath dragon. She placed the dragon on top of her linen chest, and after a few days it had grown so big it had crushed the chest.
This scared her, so she tossed the dragon and the gold and the remains of the chest into the lake, where the dragon continued to grow. It terrorized the countryside until two Finns came to destroy it. They couldn't kill the monster, so instead they chained its head and tail to the bottom of the lake. What people see are portions of its back and body undulating about.
I mean, who wouldn't want to go check out a place where that legend is set? Folklore and cool historical nuggets like this are perfect for getting tourist attention. I sure want to go. I mean, the only thing that Iceland has to worry about is tourists who take the whole commission thing too seriously. And come back with tales of travel among silly people who believe that Lagarfljótsomurinn exists.
Okay, so maybe not quite enough of that after all. Turns out some Stateside reporting already is playing into just that image of the people of Iceland.
Look, the head of the commission himself admits that he isn't sure how serious the commission was. He doesn't know if it was serious or a joke, but they had to make a ruling. That article says the commission's report says the beast exists. So does the article by Discovery News.
Now, at no point do these articles quote the commission report as saying the monster is real. Well, Icelandic news reported it and gave context on it. And seven members of the commission did vote that this was a video showing the fabled lake monster.
"Aha, vindication!" you say. "The Icelanders do believe in elves and lake monsters! They are exactly as silly as portrayed in our media here!"
Is it so hard to imagine that perhaps the commission members were canny enough to decide "Why don't we just say the it's a real video of the monster? Then we can get tourists." And the foreign press would happily seize on the opportunity to use stereotypes about Icelanders to make them look silly, but the Icelanders would be leveraging that to their advantage.
Foreign journalists and tourists are going to Iceland to check it out, all because the world can't seem to help but stereotype the Icelandic people. People from the U.S., Russia, Canada, Japan, Spain, France and more have come to check things out. And Iceland's pocketing money from it. Maybe we have it backwards with our stereotype. Maybe the Icelanders are evil geniuses and we're the stupid ones.
The lesson here is that lake monsters are cool, and don't trust foreign journalists to report things without basing them in stereotypes in lieu of actual investigative journalism. Then make that mad tourism krona, you know you really wanna.
The video, for your pleasure.
Image credit: Ancient-Origins.net
Image credit: Nordic Thoughts